Movie: (1958) After some mysterious deaths in the Swiss Alps, a U.N. troubleshooter is sent to assist a scientist who is investigating the situation. But a pretty young psychic may be the most help.
First shown: approx. 11/25/89? (See below).
Invention exchange: Electric bagpipes, canine anti-perspirant, welcome to Deep 13
Host segment 1: Crow and Tom fail to understand why losing your head is a big deal
Host segment 2: Gypsy uncoils
Host segment 3: J&TB discuss the whole “giant eye” premise
End: Good thing/bad thing, the Mads are happy
• In the months between Memorial Day weekend (when the last KTMA episode aired) and the end of November (when this episode first aired), the Brains put together a nine-minute pitch video with what they considered to be the funniest moments from the show (that video was later included on the Scrapbook Tape). Joel called in some favors and managed to get meetings with executives at The Comedy Channel and Ha!, the two competing 24-hour comedy basic cable channels that had just started up, or were about to. Joel and Jim headed to New York with high hopes. The Ha! executives took a pass (the show really didn’t fit in with their lineup of mostly sitcom reruns) but the Comedy Channel executives liked what they saw–especially the fact that the show would be two hours long, really helping to fill their programming grid. Stu Smiley, a well-regarded TV producer who was then working at HBO (The Comedy Channel’s parent company) once told me that the other reason they went with the show is that the executives knew and trusted Joel. They offered a 13-show deal and Jim and Joel signed. Jim and Kevin quit their jobs at the KTMA (it wasn’t THAT courageous a leap–the station was circling the drain), and, with Joel, Trace and Josh, incorporated as Best Brains Inc. in July. A friend had some empty warehouse space in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie. It was just what they needed. They moved in and set about building new sets, new bots and generally rebooting the whole show. This is the result.
• Do I like it? It’s such an icon that, like the Taj Mahal, it almost seems above my likes and dislikes. Yes, the riffing is funny and steady, but the whole thing is still pretty rough. Really it’s not much more than a somewhat polished KTMA episode, not even close to the level of entertainment we’d get even later this season, and certainly in season two and forward. But there are definitely some fun spots, and it’s where it all began.
• This episode is part of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Vol. XVII.
• The Comedy Channel went live on Nov. 15, 1989, and we now believe, thanks to the diligent work of Tom Noel, that the first episode actually aired was episode 102- ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY, on Nov. 18, and that this episode appeared the following weekend, on Nov. 25. Cast members have said, somewhat casually, that it first ran on Thanksgiving day, 1989. That year Thanksgiving fell on the 23rd, but we do not believe an episode actually aired on that date. That was a Thursday, and the show aired on Saturdays. But, let’s face it, back then, nobody was keeping track of this stuff. If somebody has TV Guides or some other TV schedule from the second half of November, 1989, and it lists The Comedy Channel, let us know!
• The stretch between the end of the KTMA season and the beginning of season one (if we assume the first episode aired on Nov. 18) was 173 days, the fifth-longest amount of time MSTies had to wait between episodes.
• Firsts (in addition to being the first national show): The first episode to be fully scripted, first mention of Gizmonic Institute, first invention exchange, first episode to be filmed at Best Brains studios, first movie to have a film used with permission, first episode with Jim doing the voice and puppeteering for Gypsy and the first episode with scenes set in Deep 13. Also this was the first episode to end its credits with: “Keep circulating the tapes.”
• Changes from KTMA: A completely redesigned dog-bone shaped satellite, a new door sequence, new sets and new theme lyrics.
• A little about The Comedy Channel (since there is VERY little video of it on YouTube that I could find): The premise was that it was going to be a comedy version of MTV — MTV the way it was back when it first started and actually showed music videos, that is. When MTV started, they had hosts (veejays as they were called) who introduced the videos and generally chatted between videos. The Comedy Channel wanted to emulate that setup: It called its hosts “ceejays” and they generally showed clips of comedy shows (they had all all those HBO comedy specials in their vault) and movies. But, one by one, most of the ceejays evolved their shows into something else. Alan Havey turned his into a talk show. The Higgins Boys and Gruber turned theirs into a sketch comedy show, and so forth. But not all the programming was like that. Rich Hall had a terrific series (hey Shout! get the rights!) called “Onion World.” And then, of course, there was MST3K. Initially they ran it on Saturday morning, playing off the idea that it was a parody of a kid’s show, but it also played in the wee hours. One last note: The Comedy Channel was not available in many areas of the Twin Cities when the show debuted. BBI staffers found a bar that carried it and went there to celebrate and watch it when this show first debuted.
• During the theme song, we see Joel (as the lyrics say) “working” and “cleaning up” but in these shots we can see that he’s in Deep 13 and on the SOL. We never actually see him working at Gizmonic Institute. You’d think they could have just had him go out into the hallway at the BBI offices and shot some footage. Maybe that footage in Deep 13 is from when he cleaned up that Flubber spill? I know, it’s just a show…
• During the opening theme, you can spot Jim’s head sticking up–it’s during the section where Joel sings “…to make his robot friends…” You can also spot the PVC pipe that was used to work Crow.
• There is no opening host segment between the theme song and the first commercial, something that became institutionalized later.
• In Deep 13, Dr. F. appears to be controlling the camera with some sort of remote control device that looks like a little satellite antenna. In season two, they would create the notion of the Mole People assisting on camera and such … and then they just stopped worrying about explaining who was behind the camera.
• We get as much information as we’re ever going to get about Deep 13 in that first host segment.
• Joel wore a tan jumpsuit in the KTMA episodes. With this episode he switches to bright red and the red jumpsuit continues through the entire season. In season two, he switches up the colors a bit, but we’ll deal with that when we get there.
• The “electric bagpipes” used in the invention exchange were the first of many props from Joel’s old standup act that would re-appear as inventions.
• During the KTMA shows, Joel and the bots (usually Servo) used to signal the approach of a commercial during the theater riffing. It’s a habit they continue in this episode and for many to come before it fades away.
• Both Tom Servo and Crow have been rebuilt. Tom is built slightly different from later eps–larger shoulder thingies and a larger white beak.
• Trace has pretty much abandoned the “baby” voice he used for Crow during KTMA, though we get occasional, er, traces of it.
• Note that there are no buttons on the table: At Movie Sign, Joel just sort of slaps the table! Movie Sign is a somewhat lifeless affair all the way around…no flashing lights, just a little camera-shaking.
• During this season, BBI experimented with making the theater seats different colors, to see if the signature visual element of the show might be a little easier to see especially during dark scenes. In this episode they are just sort of a dark gray.
• BBI was using a “thinner” bluescreen level than they would use later–the result is that Crow’s “net” seems to vanish, and you can see some odd gaps between Servo and the theater seats.
• Even taking the bluescreen level into account, you may notice that Crow’s silhouette in the theater looks a little strange. According to an informed source, BBI used the KTMA Crow for the theater segments here–all they did was add an extra floralier tray and clean him up a little.
• Tom walks into the theater by himself in the first movie segment, just as he often did during the KTMA episodes. Joel carries him in after the first and second host segments, and Tom seems to like it.
• Of course, this is the movie that Mike and the Bots were watching at the end of the final episode of Season 10. As we discussed then, it was a cute “full-circle” kind of thing, but the writers forgot (or decided not to care) that this movie doesn’t start with the credits. It has a “cold” opening right into a mountain climbing scene. Maybe Mike and the bots tuned in late?
• Fans of the terrific cartoon series “Freakazoid” may recall an episode that did an almost scene-for-scene (in spots) takeoff of this movie.
• I was still pretty new to the show when I saw this, and when they said “directed by us!” during the credits, I thought that was some sort of catchphrase that they were going to say every week. I later figured out that they were just referring to the fact that an arrow was pointing at them.
• A couple of times Joel does a funny bit where he provides the the voice of the other person on the telephone when somebody is talking on the phone. Cracks me up.
• You can see the shadows of the puppeteers on the wall during the second host segment. Cambot should not have pulled back quite so far.
• We meet a whole new Gypsy in segment two. She’s completely redesigned and has a new person running her and doing her voice, but her mouth mechanism squeaks so much you can barely make out what she’s saying. And that whole comment from Tom about discovering something that “narrows down” what Gypsy’s sex is–that’s just odd. Also, her light isn’t on. And this is the one and only time Joel removes her “eye”–something that seems to upset her quite a bit.
• Joel blows a line in the the theater: “Pick up some ice and some cubes.” They just keep going.
• I like the radio conversations between the pilot and the guys on the ground, clearly written by somebody with no aviation experience. The guys on the ground address the pilot as “plane.” The pilot addresses the guys on the ground as “party.”
• We get the origin of the “Richard Basehart” running gag in the final host segment. If you ever wondered what the whole Richard Basehart thing was about, it was just a weird non-sequitur.
• Cast and crew roundup: Special effects guy SFX: Les Bowie also worked on “Moon Zero Two.” In front of the camera, Warren Mitchell also appeared in “Moon Zero Two.”
• CreditsWatch: The basic credits for season 1 are: Writers: Trace Beaulieu, Joel Hodgson, Jim Mallon, Kevin Murphy, Mike Nelson, Josh Weinstein. Featuring: Joel Hodgson’s Puppet Bots.Associate Producer: Kevin Murphy.Production Manager: Alexandra B. Carr. Editor: Randy Davis. Art Direction: Trace Beaulieu, Joel Hodgson.Set Design: Trace Beaulieu, Joel Hodgson.Lighting: Kevin Murphy. Make-up: Faye Burkholder, Clayton James. Costumes: Bow Tie. Gizmonic Devices: Joel Hodgson. Production Assistants: Jann L. Johnson, Steve Rosenberer, Sara J. Sandborn. Production/Post Production: Fuller Productions, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Production Staff: Ken Fournelle, Jim Fuller. Production Assistant: Jim Erickson. Special thanks: Randy Herget, Skyline Inc., Bryan Beaulieu, KTMA TV23, The Teachers of America, David Campbell, Rick Leed. Keep circulating the tapes.
• Favorite riff: “o/` I’m Popeye the sailor man…I’ve got a guy’s head in my hand… o/`” Honorable mention: “Fannie Flag and Groucho and Carl Sagan…..”